How far is Russia from Alaska? It’s a question many have wondered while glancing at a map of this remote northern region. We’re taking a closer look at this question and why it has become a notable piece of pop culture. Let’s get started!
How Close is Russia to Alaska?
The short answer is that Russia is much closer than the rest of the United States to the 49th and largest state. At their nearest point, approximately 55 miles separate mainland Alaska and mainland Russia. This area is between the American settlement of Wales and unsettled Russian land near the community of Uelen. Just a few dozen miles of water in the Bering Strait separate the countries.
Can You See Russia from Alaska?
Luckily for those who want a peep at the largest landmass nation in the world, they can do so without leaving the United States. Several places, both on the Alaskan mainland and Bering Strait islands, offer views of Russian-controlled islands and even the continent on occasion. Don’t expect to see much, however. This part of Russia has a sparser population than average for the vast country.
Why Did Seeing Russia from Alaska Become a Curiosity?
Geography lovers may have long noted the unusual ability. But seeing Russia from Alaska and the question of how far Russia is from Alaska went mainstream during the 2008 presidential campaign. The trend followed comments by the then-Republican vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. In an interview with ABC, Palin called Russia Alaska’s “next-door neighbors” and noted that people could see the country from an Alaskan island.
The comment drew national attention days later during a Saturday Night Live spoof, where comedian and actress Tina Fey, playing Palin, delivered the now-infamous line, “And I can see Russia from my house!” However, many incorrectly believe the spoof line came from Palin instead.
From Which US Island Can You See a Russian Island?
Several American islands offer views of Russia and its islands. The most prominent are the Diomede Islands, which sit in the middle of the Bering Strait. Big Diomede belongs to Russia, while Little Diomede is formally a part of Alaska and the United States.
These islands are the closest official point between Russia and Alaska at under 3 miles, an easy distance to see across on a clear day. Alaska’s Saint Lawrence Island also allows views of Russia, albeit the mainland and not an island.
Why Did Russia Sell Alaska?
It might surprise you that Alaska was once part of Russia. The explorers representing the country claimed Alaska in the mid-1700s, though they proceeded with relatively little development in the following century. The United States bought Alaska in 1867. Russia primarily sold the area due to the cost and difficulty of defending it and exploiting its resources. Its leaders figured that, rather than risk losing the region militarily, they should cash out. The United States paid $7.2 million, or approximately two cents per acre.
While some may wonder why Alaska became part of the United States rather than Canada, the answer lies precisely in the reason Russia sold it. At the time, Russia and Great Britain (which still controlled Canada) were military and geopolitical rivals. Therefore, Russia wouldn’t want its former territory to end up in Britain’s hands. The area was also of little concern to the British, who would have been far removed from their new possession and focused on more profitable colonies.
Pro Tip: Visiting Alaska? We uncovered Does Alaska Have Earthquakes? What Visitors Should Know.
Is There a Bridge From the U.S. to Russia?
Now that you know how far Russia is from Alaska, you may wonder if there’s a convenient way to travel between them. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a path to travel for tens of thousands of years. A prominent theory on how humans first came to the Americas suggests that a land bridge existed between Russia and Alaska during the last Ice Age. As global water levels fell with water in ice caps, land emerged that early humans could cross. Generations established themselves in Alaska over time. As water levels rose again, this “bridge” sank, separating the continents.
Various individuals and countries have discussed artificial Bering Strait crossings for more than a century, including the alternative of a tunnel. However, concerns over cost, construction, water conditions, depth, and other factors have kept the idea theoretical.
Can You Boat From the U.S. to Russia?
This is one of those questions where whether you can is different from whether you should. If you can get a boat up to the area, there’s certainly nothing that would physically prevent you from making the crossing to Big Diomede or even the Russian mainland. However, you may run into trouble with the Russian military or coast guard units patrolling the border. This is something most people would want to avoid, especially given the tension between the two nations.
Can You Swim From Alaska to Russia?
You can swim from Alaska to Russia, and people have made the journey several times over the past few decades. Most notably, American swimmer Lynne Cox swam between Little and Big Diomede islands in 1987, during the final years of the Cold War. She had been working for more than a decade to obtain permission for the swim. She saw it as a gesture of friendship between the two rival superpowers. Once again, experts do not recommend swimming there. Cox was a powerful swimmer, but even in the summer, she struggled on the more than two-mile swim due to frigid water temperatures. Less-skilled swimmers will almost certainly run into life-threatening danger.
How Deep Is the Ocean Between the U.S. and Russia?
The Bering Strait is approximately 160 feet deep at most, though some areas are less than 100 feet in depth. While this may seem deep, it’s very shallow compared to the average ocean depth of 2.3 miles, according to NOAA. This shallowness allowed the theorized land bridge to emerge as ocean levels fell during the Ice Age.
Pro Tip: Looking for wildlife while exploring Alaska? Find out Are There Penguins in Alaska?
Closer to Russia Physically, But Alaska Is Still 100% American
While many people may know Alaska and Russia are close, they may be shocked to find out how far Russia is from Alaska! Without the human-imposed international border, the two regions would have far more in common than they currently do. In any case, they both share the ultra-remote character of the area and have governments thousands of miles away. But despite some physical similarities to Russia, Alaskans are still proudly part of the United States. They have more than six decades as a state and a century and a half as an American territory.
Would you want to follow a bridge or means of travel between Alaska and Russia? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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